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  • Jonathan Widran

WOOD WILLOW, Southern Intentions

From a promotional standpoint, it makes sense to entice listeners to experience extraordinary new (though deeply old soul) artists like indie folk/Americana duo Wood Willow with stylistically relatable comparisons. So as you let the powerful individual lead vocals and insanely heartwarming and soaring harmonies of the Oklahoma based, bluegrass-fueled Joel Parks (vocals/guitars) and Becca Herrod (vocals/mandolin) wash over your senses throughout the duo’s sparkling and eclectic full length debut album Southern Intentions, you can try to imagine a playfully concocted hybrid of genre legend Gillian Welch and legendary distortion rock duo The White Stripes.

But then allow yourselves to settle in and journey from the plucky, percussive front porch singalong “So Much Runnin’” through the quirky, wit and wordless vocal infused “Tijuana,” and you’ll realize that this real life couple isn’t staying in the crazy comparison zone for long. On the latter, you’ll realize that never has a phrase like “oom bop bitty adda oom bap ba” been more meaningful and fun-spirited.

Officially, Parks and Herrod (both also members of the 6-piece popular regional trad bluegrass ensemble Steelwind) first met in the fall of 2018 at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival and quickly began playing music together all the time. But they let us hear their truer creative origin story on the playful, jangling “No More Close to Heaven,” the first song they ever wrote together.

A powerful, sparsely arranged showcase for their raw, powerhouse tandem vocals and Herrod’s dynamic way with narrative, the song lets us in on just how effortless things are, musically and otherwise, when they’re together: “All these paths that intertwine/All that divide/Well life is much more simple than that/Try as we might.”

Though these harmonies on gems like the hypnotic about to break up title track, the gentle, folksy singalong “You’ve Got Me” and edgy, bar borne jam “Pour My Drink” are the trademark selling point of the multi-faceted Wood Willow sonic experience, the two create true joy just as magnetically on the verses where they’re singing solo. Their real time one to one conversation leading to the harmonic chorus on the title track is likewise enchanting.

The two have a lot of fun singing about the ups and downs of love, but turn a bit more philosophical on what is probably the album’s most piercing (yet simply rendered) tune “Birds,” with a lead vocal sung by Herrod, about the importance of embracing the reality of one’s mortality and thus learning to appreciate the fact that “I don’t want to ever feel like I’m forever.” On the complete opposite side of the seriousness spectrum is the festive, call and response piano driven finger snapper “Box of Wine,” which Parks admits is a fictional nonsense song. The thematic balance Wood Willow brings to their traditional bluegrass vibe is irresistible.

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